Recently, I came across a blog post by Daniel Green, who is the head of strategic media partnerships at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He coauthored this post with Mayur Patel, vice president of strategy and assessment at the Knight Foundation. I mention this because those two foundations have contributed $3.25 million in seed funding “…to advance a better understanding of audience engagement and media impact…”. They are undertaking an ambitious project to develop a rubric (of sorts) to determine “…how media influences the ways people think and act, and contributes to broader societal changes…”. Although it doesn’t specifically say, I include social media in the broad use of “media”. The blog post talks about broader agenda–that of informed and engaged communities. These foundations believe that an informed and engaged communities will strengthen “… democracy and civil society to helping address some of the world’s most challenging social problems.”
Or in other words, what difference is being made, which is something I wonder about all the time. (I’m an evaluator, after all, and I want to know what difference is made.)
Although there are strong media forces out there (NYTimes, NPR, BBC, the Guardian, among others), I wonder about the strength and effect of social media (FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, among others). Anecdotally, I can tell you that social media is everywhere and IS changing the way people think and act. I watch my now 17 y/o who uses the IM feature on her social media to communicate with her friends, set up study dates, find out homework assignments, not the phone like I did. I watch my now 20 y/o multitask–talk to me on Skype and read and respond to her FB entry. She uses IM as much as her sister. I know that social media was instrumental in the Arab spring. I know that major institutions have social media connections (FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.). Social media is everywhere. And we have no good way to determine if it is making a difference and what that difference is.
For something so ubiquitous (social media), why is there no way to evaluate social media other than through the use of analytics? I’ve been asking that question since I first posted my query “Is this blog making a difference?” back in March 2012. Since I’ve been posting since December 2009, that gave me over 2 years from which to gather data. That is a luxury when it comes to programming, especially when many programs often are a few hours in duration and an evaluation is expected.
I hope that this project provides useful information for those of us who have come kicking and screaming to social media and have seen the light. Even though they are talking about the world of media, I’m hoping that they can come up with measures that address the social aspect of media. The technology provided IS useful; the question is what difference is it making?